Span­ish liv­ing la vida

Spain is pre­dicted to over­take tra­di­tion­ally long-liv­ing Japan with an av­er­age lifes­pan of 85.8 years. Maybe it’s time we all started tak­ing sies­tas, writes

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TUCK into a plate of paella and savour a glass of san­gria, for the Span­ish ap­pear to have un­locked the key to healthy liv­ing. In the global longevity study car­ried out by the In­sti­tute for Health Met­rics and Eval­u­a­tion and pub­lished in the

Lancet med­i­cal jour­nal this month, Spain is pre­dicted to over­take tra­di­tion­ally long-liv­ing Japan with an av­er­age lifes­pan of 85.8 years. That means the Spaniards — renowned for their love of wine, food, and late night — would out­live us by over four years, given that the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion es­ti­mates the life ex­pectancy in Ire­land to be 81.5.

It seems coun­ter­in­tu­itive that a na­tion that lives off long lunches and late nights can en­joy such longevity, so what can we learn from their health­ier habits?

Walk more

Ac­cord­ing to the Gov­ern­ment’s na­tional phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity plan, 18-64-year-olds and older adults should get 150 min­utes a week, with a fo­cus on aer­o­bic ac­tiv­ity, mus­cle­strength­en­ing, and bal­ance, but fig­ures re­leased in May (2018) by the Ir­ish Sports Mon­i­tor Re­port show just un­der one third (32.6%) of adults achieve this amount.

What the Span­ish do well is walk, known as a ‘paseo’. Whether it’s a paseo when shop­ping while push­ing a stroller, just a stroll around the block dur­ing the evening, most peo­ple in Spain put in their daily steps with a 2014 re­port plac­ing the coun­try sec­ond on the list of those most ‘likely to walk for 10 min­utes or more on at least four days of the week’ with 76% of Spaniards meet­ing that mark.

Since walk­ing is known to im­prove phys­i­cal and emo­tional health (in ad­di­tion to re­duc­ing the size of your waist­line), it’s a habit that is keep­ing their health in check.

Have plenty of sex

In the Ir­ish Study of Sex­ual Health and Re­la­tion­ships, con­ducted at Univer­sity Col­lege Dublin a few years ago, most peo­ple (58%) have sex less than once a week, with 28% hav­ing sex less than once a month. Half of mar­ried peo­ple in Ire­land have sex less than once a week. Renowned for be­ing amorous, sex is an im­por­tant part of the Spaniards’ ap­proach to healthy liv­ing.

Sur­veys by an­a­lysts Kan­tar Mill­ward Brown show they have sex an av­er­age 2.1 times a week. No sur­prise ei­ther that, in a onepoll.com sur­vey of 15,000 women around the globe four years ago, the red-blooded Span­ish male topped the list of ‘the best lovers’. Ir­ish men didn’t fare too badly (in fifth po­si­tion), but clearly there’s work to be done to climb the list.

Eat more veg­eta­bles

A re­cent study of 19 Euro­pean coun­tries con­ducted at the Univer­sity of Sao Paulo in Brazil and pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Pub­lic

Health Nutri­tion, showed that al­most half (45.9%) of the con­tent of Ir­ish shop­ping trol- leys is ul­tra-pro­cessed food. When com­pared to oth­ers in Europe, we ranked the third (be­hind Bri­tain) high­est con­sumers of foods packed with salts, sug­ars, fats, and ad­di­tives.

In the same re­search, Span­ish fam­i­lies were shown to buy only 20% ul­tra-pro­cessed food, less than half the amount we eat. In­stead, they stick more closely to the plant­based Mediter­ranean ap­proach to eat­ing with plenty of oily fish, nuts — rich in vi­ta­min E, cop­per, mag­ne­sium and pro­tein — and fresh veg­eta­bles, which has been shown to re­duce the risk of heart dis­ease by 27% and to in­crease longevity by one quar­ter.

Take an af­ter­noon nap

Af­ter a lengthy Span­ish-style lunch, what could be bet­ter than an af­ter­noon nap? Older-gen­er­a­tion Spaniards stick with tra­di­tion and take a two-hour siesta, shown to be good for health.

A 2012 study in Spain showed a siesta im­proved car­dio­vas­cu­lar health and sharp­ened both mood and mem­ory. Try a power nap af­ter lunch, but make it no longer than half an hour — lengthy naps of 60 min­utes plus have been shown to raise the risk of heart dis­ease and di­a­betes.

Fac­tor in reg­u­lar cof­fee breaks

In ac­cor­dance with the Euro­pean Work­ing Time Direc­tive, our av­er­age work­ing week should not ex­ceed 48 hours for many em­ploy­ees. We are en­ti­tled to a 15-minute break af­ter ev­ery four hours at work and a fur­ther 15-minute break af­ter we have been work­ing for six hours. Take as many of these breaks as you can and your health may ben­e­fit.

While the Span­ish work some of the long­est work­ing hours in Europe — an 11-hour stretch that ex­tends from 9am about 8pm— their days are typ­i­cally punc­tu­ated with cof­fee breaks and a lengthy lunch break to off­set the stress.

Eat your big­gest meal at lunchtime

In Ire­land, most of our daily calo­ries are con­sumed later in the day as we tuck into a large and sat­is­fy­ing evening meal.

The Span­ish, on the other hand, do things the other way round with larger lunch fol­lowed by tapas (small, light plates of food) con­sumed much later in the evening (8pm9pm). A study ear­lier this year pub­lished in the

Jour­nal of Nutri­tion Sciences found there are ben­e­fits to eat­ing ear­lier than nor­mal each evening, and even shift­ing your evening meal for­ward by 90 min­utes — more in keep­ing with the Span­ish ap­proach — could pay off. The the­ory that it’s bet­ter to eat your main meal ear­lier than later, in sync with our cir­ca­dian rhythms which tell our body to eat when its light.

Find­ings showed that those who shifted their meal times to an ear­lier slot lost on av­er­age more than twice as much body fat as those in a con­trol group who stuck to their reg­u­lar eat­ing times.

Any re­duc­tion in body fat “lessens our chances of de­vel­op­ing obe­sity and re­lated dis­eases”, said Dr Jonathan John­ston, study author from the Univer­sity of Sur­rey.

While the Span­ish work some of the long­est work­ing hours in Europe — an 11 hour stretch that ex­tends from 9am about 8pm — their days are typ­i­cally punc­tu­ated with cof­fee breaks and a lengthy lunch break to off­set the stress

Pic­ture: iS­tock

UN­DER THE SHEET: The Span­ish have sex an av­er­age 2.1 times a week. In a sur­vey of 15,000 women around the globe, the red-blooded Span­ish male topped the list of ‘the best lovers’.

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